The Great 2011 Vegetable Round Up

December 31, 2011

Right well you asked for it, and my poor soggy vegetable garden continues to resemble a rice paddy more than anything I could actually imagine digging, so now’s the time for a spot of virtual gardening instead as I consider what went well, what went badly, and what’s going to be on the seed order for next year.

I think the first lesson is that I planted WAY too many potatoes this year. When I’d harvested the maincrops, I sorted out the damaged ones to eat ‘immediately’ while the rest got stored in the shed – and we’re still eating the damaged ones (now going a bit sprouty). We really don’t eat that many potatoes. On the plus side, they keep better than expected and I’ve managed to donate some to neigbours and family. Even so, I think I’ll be scaling back on the tatties next time round.

That said, potatoes – along with red and normal onions – were about the only thing that really did that well this year. Suddenly the Scottish diet makes a lot of sense: it consists of things that will grow even if it rains solidly for about 9/10 of the year. Nobody moves to South West Scotland for its mediterranean climate but even so, the weather this year has been spectacularly damp and miserable, even in May when we traditionally have our summer. Anything that required pollination wasn’t happy as a result. The broad beans and peas grew fine but we got way less of a crop than we’ve been used to. And the french beans? Well, the french beans got planted out the day before the huge gale and never really recovered. Although I planted more, it was always a game of catchup and they barely flowered, let alone provided any beans. Still, they fared better than a friend’s runner beans – he planted them out on the morning of the gale when they had two nice big true leaves each, sticking out on either side like little wings … I think you can guess the rest.

Without much in the way of flying insects about, at least my brassicas didn’t suffer so much from the cabbage whites, which was good for the romanesco at least. Here endeth the good news. The purple sprouting broccoli, which are supposed to overwinter and then sprout in the spring, unsurprisingly mistook the summer for the winter and flowered early. The cabbages were simply remorselessly munched by the slugs (as were the squash) and anything left just bolted. I still have five broccoli plants left which will hopefully sprout again in spring. The pumpkins flowered and then all the little fruits just rotted on the vine. The sweetcorn flowered and then promptly blew over (you’d think a wind-pollinated plant would be a bit more resistant to a bit of wind, but no). Did I mention at all that it was a bit damp and breezy this year?

One thing I’ve not suffered from this year at least is monster parsnips, for which I can’t blame the weather (for once) as it was because I completely failed to thin them out so we have a mixture of normal sized and completely weedy parsnips. In fact, if I’m honest, many of my gardening woes have been as much to do with user error than the weather and the slugs. I always, always, always plant everything too soon and then have lots of leggy desperate seedlings on every windowsill. I never stay on top of the weeding or the slug patrols, and I always plant things too close and then can’t bear to thin out the babies. I have never got the hang of soil nutrition and end up with multi-storey garlic (we ate it anyway). I get the veg I deserve, frankly.

I shan’t quite be giving up though. I work on the principle that I have to fail three times before I completely give up on any crop. With persistence, I managed to grow some carrots, although I really can’t honestly hand on heart say that it was worth the effort. I also managed to learn to like beetroot, although not as efficiently and quickly as the garden mice did. They basically demolished the entire second sowing and I suspect they’ll be quicker to get to them now they know what they are. Short of shooing the cat off the sofa and up to the walled garden, which is easier said than done these days, I’m not sure exactly how to tackle that problem.

I also got third-time lucky with my leeks. After a first year in which I grew a single solitary (but delicious) leek, and a second year in which I grew rather more, and equally delicious but tiny leeks, this year I have actually grown a fair number of reasonably sized leeks. In fact, rather a lot of them. I planted out a full bed’s worth of little ones and then, as each crop either got harvested or turned up its toes, I transplanted some of the little ones into the space that was left. I now have basically four beds of leeks dotted around the garden (which makes digging it over a little complicated). We’re getting rid of them slowly but surely though. I’m chalking up ‘too many leeks’ under ‘nice problem to have’.

The surprise success of the year has been perpetual spinach (or leaf beet) which seems to substitute fine for real spinach, although Jane Grigson, she who knows everything about vegetables, is a bit sniffy about the stuff. It grows, that’s the main thing. I tried real spinach and got about one plant. Our landlord plants it as well and then doesn’t eat it as much as we do so we’ve been supplementing ours with theirs with some success. In fact it’s been so remarkably unremarkable and reliabe, I don’t seem to have taken any photos of it or blogged about it or did anything but grow it and eat it. I suppose that counts as a win, in my garden. It’ll have to because without a spreadsheet any more I have no other way of keeping score.

So there you go. Every year I start off with great plans and enthusiasm and a determination that this time I will succeed with everything and win prizes for my produce and every year the garden mostly wins. If it ever stops raining, I shall head out and – working around the leeks – finish digging over and manuring the plot. And then I’ll get the seed catalogues out and start dreaming again. Only this time, I know I’ll be more organised and less optimistic and harder working and more diligent and it really WILL be different in 2012

Well, maybe.

The Ducks are Getting Fat

December 29, 2011

In the long march between Christmas and New Year, all up and down the land there are too many people stuffed into too-small houses, eating up all the too much food they prepared for the big day.

Under these circumstances, getting out for some fresh air becomes imperative, and as a walk is always better when it has a purpose, what better purpose can there be than to go up to the local duck pond and feed the ducks? Duns’s particular duck pond is the Hen Poo in the castle grounds, and there appears to be a constant procession of family groups heading up there to shiver in the wind and donate some of the surplus grub to the birds.

You’d think the poor things would be stuffed but no:

At the sight of a likely looking group – or even a lone blogger with a camera who forgot her bread – they come sprinting as fast as a duck can sprint. They surely know in their little duck hearts that this is not going to be good for them, that they don’t need it, that they’ll pay for it in the long run … and yet still they come.

Strangely enough, a similar effect can be achieved in our household by asking if anyone’s got room for another mince pie.

If you Leave Me…

December 24, 2011

… can I come with you?

Much as I’d like to think that this reflected her intelligence in realising we were leaving, and her desire to come along, I suspect it’s got more to do with the general cat compulsion to get inside anything that she has previously been unable to get into to try it for size. No doubt if we’d been trying to get her into the car with us, it would have been a lot more of a battle.

Be that as it may, wherever you are this Christmas and whoever you’re with, I hope you have a good one.
oh, and in case anyone is worrying, the landlord is looking after the cat.

And Did Those Feet?

December 22, 2011

Tomorrow we head off for Duns, letting the stove go out fully for the first time in almost three weeks (an act that feels a bit like extinguishing the Olympic flame). And it being Christmas I had a few errands to run today, seeing as it’s the season for nipping out to the shops for the millionth time for the thing you forgot the last time you nipped out to the shops. Naturally, these errands were in diametrically opposite directions to each other which meant that this afternoon I suddenly had a total of 23 miles to cover on the bike (home to Papershop Village, Papershop Village to Bigtown, Bigtown to home). Astoundingly, given that the forecast had been for a mild, dry but overcast, breezy day, the afternoon turned out to be mild, dry but overcast and a bit breezy, so I set off, pedalling as only a cyclist who has been barely able to cycle for weeks and will be unable to cycle for another week can pedal. In truth, it was more of a bike ride with a few errands thrown in than nipping out to run errands on the bike, but who cares. The weather’s been all over the place this year, with May coming in April, March repeating itself throughout the summer, and September turning out like November. If the shortest day of the year wanted to suddenly turn in an impression of early October, I wasn’t going to argue with it. It will be a while before I’m back on the bike, scattering flocks of chaffinches, sending sheep running, and slowing down while squirrel Nutkin makes up his fluffy mind which side of the road he wishes to be on, so I enjoyed it while I could.

Updates may be a little sporadic over the next few days as we will be attempting to beat the world record for the greatest number of family members crammed into a tiny house over at Huttonian‘s. However, I do want to flag up this. The Womens’ Institute, Gawd bless its jam-making, Jerusalem-singing and Tony-Blair-slow-handclapping cotton socks wishes to encourage cycling. Sadly, it’s considering doing so by making cycling helmets compulsory. If that strikes you as a bit daft, or even if it doesn’t, I’d urge you to read this and then go and sign this. Hopefully, once sense has been seen and the might of the WI is brought to bear instead on the real issues of cyclists’ safety, such as decent bike paths, Jerusalem really will be builded here and it really will be a green and pleasant land.

The Other Female

December 21, 2011

I came back from fetching the paper yesterday to find the other half – who professes to dislike cats – lying on the sofa with the cat ensconced on his chest. She interrupted her purring long enough to give me a look that said ‘and you are?’

If this continues, I may come back from one of my trips to London to find the locks changed – and a cat flap installed in the front door.

Mouse Walks into a Bar

December 19, 2011

Excitement reigns in the Townmouse household with the news that Doctor’s Village is about to regain its village pub! According to the local paper, the community run shop initiative has failed so they decided to turn the premises into a pub instead, the former pub having long been turned into a private home. This is definitely swimming against the tide because if there’s been one real disappointment about rural life in these parts it’s been the lack of decent pubs. No self-respecting English village would consider itself complete without a pub, long after the shop, school, bus stop, phone box and even bench have disappeared, but Scottish pubs don’t seem to be quite the centre of rural life in the way English ones are and unless they’re on Big A Road, they struggle to survive. It’s a shame because having a local pub to head for adds almost as much pleasure to a bike ride as having a decent cafe, another thing we’re sadly lacking in round here now I come to think of it.

So we wish the new venture well and look forward to checking out our almost local boozer, although I suspect it won’t be for a while yet. Doctor’s Village is technically closer to us than Papershop village but the reason why I didn’t get my paper there when there was a shop is that it’s at the very top of a particularly steep and endless hill which makes going to the doctor quite interesting (I’ve learned to arrive a good 15 minutes before my appointments if I’m going by bike to get my blood pressure back down to a normal range). Good for working up a thirst – and great for getting swiftly home – but maybe not in the pitch dark on a dodgy potholed road. If you’ve drunk enough to think that that’s a good idea, then you’re probably too drunk to be on a bike at all. We’ll save that one for the long summer evenings, I think. Always assuming the pub’s still going by then.


Three in a Bed

December 16, 2011

This month we’re in sole charge of the cat, as the neighbour has gone off to Australia and New Zealand, the lucky sod. It isn’t too much of a chore – just a matter of feeding her twice a day and then standing at the neighbour’s front door while she performs whatever complex calculation it is that determines whether a cat wants to be inside or outside at that moment in time. These days she normally opts to spend the day asleep indoors and the night out murdering things but last night, at about ten o’clock, we heard a pitiful miaowing and opened the door to the cat, looking extremely bedraggled and wet, the weather having turned for the worse. Well, we’re soft hearted so we let her in, left her in charge of the fire and went to bed.

Now as the cat’s largely nocturnal you can probably guess what happened next. At five am, realising that the humans had every intention of wasting the WHOLE NIGHT by just blatantly sleeping through it, she took matters in hand and leapt up on the bed purring madly, and reminding us that there were cats to be petted and mice to be killed and possibly food to be eaten and what were we doing just lying about like that? Banished to the far side of the house she spent the next two hours learning how to open doors (a skill completely beyond her when there’s a person around to do it) and then thump thump THUD (she is not a light-footed cat) PRRRRR PRRRR PRRRR miAOWWW!! WAKEY WAKEY! COME ON HUMANS LET’S BE DOING THINGS. IS IT BREAKFAST YET? DID I MENTION I WAS STARVING? whereupon she learned that climbing on the bed and yelling in my ear was the new climbing on the kitchen counter and out into the snow she went.*

Of course, a line must be drawn and standards must be kept up and we can’t tolerate having a dumb animal, however cute, waking us up at all hours, without so much as bringing us a cup of coffee to soften the blow. So I’m going to be firm about the cat staying outdoors at night or at the very least being banished to the far end of the house. Or if she comes into the sitting room she has to stay out of the bedroom. Or our bed. Or the head end of the bed at least. Or if she comes to the head end she has to be quiet and no miaowing. Or at least, no miaowing before 7am. Or no miaowing before 7am IN MY EAR.

And that’s final.

*What? Stop looking at me like that – she has a fur coat on and plenty of sheds to shelter in.


And Breathe…

December 15, 2011

There are days when the wind drops, the rain stops and the sun comes out, however briefly.

And suddenly the garden seems like a reasonable place to be again.

Won’t last, mind you…

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

December 14, 2011

For the past week or so, the other half has more or less cracked the holy grail of woodburning-stovedom, and kept it going day and night (although this works better when I’m not left in charge of the thing for too long while simultaneously being on twitter. Ahem. Turns out you still have to put some wood in it occasionally). By loading it up and turning it down at night it smoulders away and can still be revived from the embers the next morning – making getting up far less of a trial than it used to be. Although we use a bit more wood than we used to when we just lit the fire in the evening, it’s not three times as much because once the fire’s going (and the room is warm) you can just keep it ticking over rather than having it blazing away. The end result is not only that we still haven’t turned on the central heating but that I no longer have to go outside to ride my bike to get warm.* Admittedly, it’s been a lot milder than the last two years** but even so, it’s been a revelation how effective this can be

Which is all good, because more or less simultaneously the Rayburn has decided to play up. I don’t know if it’s inter-stove rivalry or some sort of conservation-of-chilliness law in operation, because up till now we thought we’d got the hang of the Rayburn and its needs. But normally it goes 5 or 6 months between services and this time it’s not even been lit three months. So far we’ve been following standard operating procedure and furiously ignoring the problem but it’s getting harder. Looks like Rayburn man is going to be paying us an early Christmas visit.

*In fact, with the form the weather gods have been on recently, it means it’s getting increasingly hard to persuade myself to leave the house at all…

** SO FAR! SO FAR! This is not, repeat not, a challenge to the Weather Gods. I am sure their awesome majesties can produce much worse winters without so much as breaking a sweat and I tremble before their mighty wrath. (will this do?)

Snails within Snails

December 13, 2011

Normally any snails I come across in my garden get flying lessons

But somehow this time, I didn’t have the heart


oh look, I’ve been here before